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#CoronavirusOutbreak: Will work from home change the functioning of ad agencies forever?

Industry heads told mass adoption of the option will continue in agencies after the crisis blows over as WFH has proven to be a viable option as it does not hamper the work process in any way

Necessity is the mother of all inventions and ad agencies have proven this age-old adage with their current working style. Since last week, ad agencies in India have completely started working from home (WFH) to practice social distancing and keep the pandemic coronavirus at bay.

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Who thought the bedroom would become a board room and brainstorming room, and also an area for virtual team meetings? Experts say communication among teammates, brainstorming and sharing of ideas are happening in full flow, and there is no lack in creativity. So if everything that is done in office is happening from home, will it change the functioning of ad agencies forever?

Also read: How to make ads in the time of remote working

Talking to, industry heads said mass adoption of this option will continue in agencies after the crisis blows over as WFH has proven to be a viable option given that it does not impair processing of work in any way.

Tarun Rai

“If there is any silver lining to this tragedy, it is that we have been able to test WFH as a viable work option and it does work. I do think, going forward, when we have won over this virus, we should not give up on what we have learnt during this period, including thinking about having only 50% of staff physically at work and the other 50% working from home on any given day,” said Tarun Rai, Chairman and Group CEO, Wunderman Thompson, South Asia.

Also read: Brands should quarantine themselves from doing campaigns around coronavirus, say experts

Rai said WFH at agencies will be the new transformed future of work. 

The MullenLowe Lintas Group is looking at ways to offer more flexible working options, to suit the needs and desires, particularly of the younger generation, and partnering with consultants, freelancers and specialists to build teams around projects and apparently this situation is likely to accelerate that.

Heather Gupta

“Although we are still in the early stages of WFH, there are already a number of learnings — first, we are more resourceful than we thought we were. Second, people are keen to reach out and support one another. Third, people are quickly adapting to this new way of life,” said Heather Gupta, Group HR Director, MullenLowe Lintas Group.

Kapil Arora

The ideal workplace solution for the agency’s business, in the opinion of Kapil Arora, Co-Chairman and CEO, 82.5 Communications, involves a fair level of physical interaction with colleagues, with clients, with consumers, with the market and with partners. 

The agency will bat for the mass WFH adoption idea. “We’ll certainly get a lot more comfortable with the WFH format than we did before, so there will be mass adoption of the idea even when we get back to normal,” Arora said.

But how functioning can be better?

Experts suggest that people taking WFH have to be task-oriented more than time-oriented and they should also try to be more disciplined about separating their family and work boundaries at home.

Jagdish Acharya

According to Jagdish Acharya, Founder and Creative Head, Cut The Crap, agencies should use work from home more as a motivator than taking it as a break. “Barriers of WFH are on individual levels. Some people’s home may not be that conducive for working. Office always provides a better working atmosphere and certain cohesion, which lack otherwise,” he said. 

Gupta said the WFH option will only work properly when strong tech solutions and team leaders motivate their people to be as productive as possible. “These are both areas, which can use some improvement, as we adjust to the current way of working.”

"WFH is still very new. I am sure it will improve and people will be able to be more disciplined about separating their family and work boundaries at home,” Rai said.

The basic challenges faced by the agencies in the time of crisis are in the areas of customer discovery, collaborations with new creators and physical production. Creativity is not under threat during this period.

“Creativity remains our greatest weapon and we are wielding it more responsibly than ever,” Arora said.

Agencies are trying their best to stand tall in a tough time and giving support to their clients. According to Acharya, the pandemic phase is not the best example to work from home as the client demands have also slowed down. “The clients are not doing campaigns at this point in time, so it’s not going to be the same kind of rigour which they would put on us on a regular day because the crisis has affected everyone,” he said.

Brands are evaluating how best to add value to their various stakeholders (internal, partners, consumers) and going to agencies with those communications challenges as of now. The other big ask is advice on how best to modify/execute/reinterpret/drop previously agreed upon plans, given the new reality.

“For mid-term plans, we’re first assessing the impact on our clients’ businesses and their own market readiness to get back into action at this stage, before getting to solutions,” said Arora.

Ads on social media have almost replaced print ads, and agencies are creating ads on social media once a week for their clients.

Gupta said that this is the time for all the brands to be as responsible as possible and help the masses during a challenging time. The agency’s brief includes communication around the need to stay safe and be responsible for social distancing.

“The Lifebuoy brand that we run globally out of Mumbai is doing all it takes to educate the masses about hand-washing and supports personal hygiene,” she said.

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